Travel events that were by turns outrageous, shocking and tragic came almost weekly in 2014
As in recent years, tourists behaving poorly was a recurring theme around the world
Passengers fought in midair over screaming tots and a device called the Knee Defender
Year ended with airplane and ferry disasters in Asia and Europe on same day
This time last year, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s infamous Moscow layover and the grounding of Boeing’s newly introduced Dreamliner fleet, we made a case for 2013 being the most unusual year in the history of commercial travel.
That was before midair fights broke out over something called the Knee Defender and the state of Sochi hotel rooms became a matter of international concern.
On top of those somewhat absurd stories, 2014 has also been marked by tragedy, from the still-missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared under mysterious circumstances in March to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that was shot down by a missile over eastern Ukraine to Air Asia Flight QZ8501, which crashed into the sea as the year drew to a tumultuous end.
From a year that’s been everything from unpredictable to bizarre to catastrophic, these have been the biggest and most memorable travel stories.
51. The bull wishes to respectfully disagree
In July, Bill Hillmann, a Chicago man who’d recently co-authored the e-book “Fiesta, How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona,” was gored in the right thigh while running with the bulls in Pamplona.
“It’s been a hell of a sh**ty fiesta so far,” Hillmann reportedly said after surgery from his hospital bed.
50. First time “You remind me of my ex-girlfriend” ever worked
In November, Toronto resident Jordan Axani, 28, went online to search for a woman with the same name as his ex-girlfriend.
Axani posted on Reddit that he’d booked a “fairly wicked” trip (New York, Milan, Paris, Prague, Bangkok, New Delhi) when he and girlfriend Elizabeth Gallagher were still together.
“Anyone familiar with the archaic system that is modern air travel will know that a name change on a ticket is damn near impossible,” he wrote on the site.
After being contacted by many women, Axani settled on Elizabeth Quinn Gallagher from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, as his new travel partner.
He said she stood out for her volunteer work at a homeless shelter.
49. “If you insist on looking like that, we’re not going.”
In March, the UK-based International Medical Travel Journal staged the first annual Medical Travel Awards in Dubai, recognizing top facilities offering treatment to visitors.
Jordan was named Destination of the Year.
48. The bacon-and-cheese therapy is particularly effective at lifting their spirits
Select Provenance hotels in the United States offered guests’ dogs acupuncture and Reiki treatments, as well as an in-house pet psychologist to help them better connect with their owners.
The service is reportedly available at Hotel deLuxe and Hotel Lucia (Portland, Oregon, of course), Hotel Murano (Tacoma, Washington), Hotel Max (Seattle) and Hotel Preston (Nashville, Tennessee).
47. Vacationers from Manhattan to Miami to Maui can’t believe how stupid they are
Proving once again they just can’t not be different, Lonely Planet picked Queens, New York, as the number one place to visit in its list of top 10 U.S. destinations for 2015.
Oakland, California, and Duluth, Minnesota, also made the list.
46. By the way, kids, 20 years ago it was called a self-timer
Whether filming or photographing themselves at dizzying heights atop skyscrapers in Shanghai and Hong Kong, or just chilling with bears at national parks in the United States, self-loving, snap-happy travelers around the world turned 2014 into the year of the dangerous selfie.
45. Can you feel the hate tonight?
Regularly slammed for charging fees for almost everything except oxygen, low-cost Florida-based Spirit Airlines launched an air travel State of Hate survey to assess the loathing their customers feel about travel as a whole.
The satisfying results of the survey filled out by almost 30,000 people?
It’s not just Spirit, fliers hate other airlines, too!
44. Thank God there was no damage over at the Buick Le Sabre Museum
Eight vehicles at Bowling Green, Kentucky’s National Corvette Museum were wrecked when a monster sinkhole in the earth swallowed them in April.
43. “Paint drying” and “grass growing” can’t believe they were passed over
British Airways unveiled “The Seven Hour Train Journey to Oslo,” perhaps the most boring inflight movie ever.
With no commentary to liven up the droll roll, the tedious epic depicts every coma-inducing detail of a slow-speed train journey to the Norwegian capital.
The airline said the film appeals to people who enjoy “wallpaper” viewing experiences.
42. An even bigger blow to national dignity was just around the corner
Saying money from visitors helps them preserve their homes and heritage, many of Italy’s cash-strapped counts and countesses threw open the doors of their centuries-old palaces to tourists, guiding them through grand halls and explaining the exquisite frescoes of such cultural pillars as 18th-century Venetian painter Giambattista Crosato.
The counts weren’t only willing to wear funny hats for the amusement of their visitors, they helped arrange travel bookings around the Venetian countryside.
41. Told you!
An Australian chef took home top honors at the World Pizza Championship in Italy.
40. And never accuse the British of making sweeping generalizations based on nationality
“Don’t ask superstitious people from Hong Kong to sleep in a historic property or a four-poster bed” and avoid “exchanging a smile or making eye contact with anyone from France you don’t know” were among a list of peculiar dos and don’ts prepared for the tourist industry in January by VisitBritain.
39. “You say Grenada, I say Granada. Wait, wha?”
An U.S. dentist named Edward Gamson said he was suing British Airways for being flown to Grenada in the Caribbean, instead of Granada, Spain, the destination he said he’d booked.
Gamson claimed the airline refused to reimburse his first-class tickets and didn’t reroute he and his partner to Granada from Grenada.
The same mix-up had occurred with a different passenger just a week earlier. Really.
38. “What part of ‘G’day mate’ don’t you understand?”
Saying its tourists need to become more self-reliant, the Australian government announced its overseas consulates would no longer assist with petty requests from its country’s travelers.
Recent calls for help from flustered Aussies abroad fielded by consulates have included requests to store luggage, take care of pets, book hotels and find local pubs showing the rugby league State of Origin game.
37. It’s not like there was a co-pilot sitting right next to him. Oh, wait …
Britain’s Air Accident Investigation Branch reported that a pilot’s prosthetic arm became detached as he performed a “flare manoeuver,” in which the nose of the plane is raised, in dark and windy conditions while bringing a Flybe airline turboprop plane with 47 passengers into Belfast City Airport in Northern Ireland.
“As he made the flare manoeuvre … his prosthetic limb became detached from the yoke clamp, depriving him of control of the aircraft,” the report said.
“He made a rapid assessment of the situation and considered alerting the co-pilot, before deciding the best option was to continue one-handed.”
36. We didn’t go through this much Kleenex during the last Nicolas Sparks movie
When Jay Kwon Yang died from stomach cancer in Virginia in 2012, he left a dream unfulfilled: world travel.
When his 25-year-old daughter, Jinna Yang, couldn’t grow past the grief of losing her father, she decided to take him on the trip of his dreams.
Traveling with a portable, life-sized cutout of her father, Yang trekked across Europe and posed for pictures together in front of famous landmarks, from Skogafoss Waterfall in Iceland to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
“I took the time to appreciate the little things,” says Yang. “In every city I went, I took time to sit and soak in sights.”
35. If they’d just stopped at “moldering flea trap” the fine would’ve been assessed in stale crumpets
When a couple left scathing comments on a travel review website describing a hotel in northern England where they’d stayed as a “filthy, dirty rotten stinking hovel,” they found an extra £100 ($156) added to their credit card bill.
The Broadway Hotel in the seaside resort of Blackpool reportedly told them its policy was to charge guests who posted negative reviews of their property.
The hotel later changed its policy.
34. Somehow, it’s not the same without the subtle bite of toxic particulate matter
Residents of Zhengzhou, one of China’s most polluted cities, lined up for a chance to breathe fresh mountain air from 2,000 cans and 40 sealed bags packed in from nearby Laojun Mountain.
Sponsored by Laojun Mountain Natural Reserve Development Co., the March series of events was part travel marketing stunt, part public awareness campaign for China’s air pollution crisis.
33. “We’re confused. Our grandkids told us ‘going viral’ was a good thing.”
The floating petri dish season got off to a robust start when Royal Caribbean’s ill-fated Explorer of the Seas set a record (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) after nearly 700 crew and passengers fell ill on a January Caribbean cruise.
The Caribbean Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, cut short its own seven-day January Caribbean itinerary, saying that 178 passengers and 11 crew members aboard had been stricken with norovirus.
In April, 105 passengers and crew aboard Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas were affected primarily with vomiting and diarrhea. During the ship’s cruise the prior week, 117 passengers and crew were struck with illness.
In the same month, 152 passengers and crew were sickened on Princess Cruise’s Crown Princess during a week-long cruise.
In November, a norovirus outbreak aboard the same ship infected 158 passengers and 14 crew members during a sailing from Los Angeles to Tahiti.
32. After the norovirus cruises, it didn’t sound like such a bad idea
Frenchman Baptiste Dubanchet bicycled from Paris to Warsaw eating food only found in trash cans.
The 26-year-old dumpster diver embarked on his mission to highlight the issue of food waste.
31. At least he managed to sustain something
At Boston’s Logan Airport, a naked man reportedly fell through the ceiling of a woman’s restroom.
According to Boston.com, the 26-year-old sustained “numerous cuts to his head and body.”
30. Oh, get over yourselves, the pizza’s not that bad
The self-esteem of airports in the United States took a pounding.
In February, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said New York’s frequently lambasted LaGuardia Airport “feels like it’s in some third world country.”
In March, the UK-based Skytrax consultancy released its annual list of the world’s top 100 airports. The highest ranking any U.S. airport managed to muster was No. 27, achieved by the relatively small Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
The venerable Economist eventually joined the dogpile, declaring U.S. airports “awful,” beset by “soggy pizza, surly security staff and endless queues.”
29. You just know someone’s gonna patent this idea
According to a published report by Fairuz Romli, an aerospace engineering professor at the Universiti Putra Malaysia, the vertical passenger seat – or “standing cabin” – may be the next big cost-cutting move in aviation.
“I stumbled across the idea when I was looking (into) ways to reduce the flight ticket price,” Romli to CNN.
28. Told you!
Airbus filed a patent application for narrow rows of folding saddle seats with low backrests on which passengers perch rather than recline.
An Airbus spokesperson told CNN that the patent didn’t necessarily mean it’d be saddling up its aircraft anytime soon.
27. “You don’t know squat.” “Actually, we do.”
When Cory Tschogl agreed to let two men stay in her Southern California condo through Airbnb, she expected them to leave after 44 days.
Upon the July end of their rental agreement, however, the ad hoc squatters refused to vacate the condo, claiming a legal right to stay.
In California, renters who occupy a property for more than 30 consecutive days are considered full-time tenants with rights to occupancy protected under state law.
The case, which attracted national media attention, came to a bizarre end when the men seemingly sneaked out of the condo unnoticed sometime in mid-August.
26. Baby, c’mon, don’t do us like that
A dispute between locals and Chinese mainland tourists over a toddler who reportedly answered the call of nature on a Hong Kong street escalated into a minor scuffle.
Videos of the clash went viral, stirring online uproar in both Hong Kong and the mainland.
Angry Chinese netizens called for a boycott of Hong Kong, while others urged parents to let their children pee in public en masse in response to the outcry.
The whole fiasco eventually became known across social media as “Bladdergate.”
25. If only social media contracts came with social contracts
In April, a 14-year-old Dutch girl tweeted a terror threat to American Airlines that catapulted her into social media fame.
A Twitter user calling herself Sarah with the handle @QueenDemetriax_ tweeted “@AmericanAir hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”
American Airlines responded from its official Twitter account saying “@QueenDemetriax_ Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.”
Moments later, in a series of tweets, the girl pleaded with the airline, writing “I’m just a girl” and claiming the threat was a joke made by her friend.
The teen turned herself in to police after authorities launched an investigation, and was charged with “posting a false or alarming announcement.”
24. This is why you should always check first before dropping in on the neighbors
In January, a Southwest Airlines jet with 124 passengers touched down at a small airport in Taney County, Missouri, about seven miles from where it was supposed to land at Branson Airport.
23. If he really wanted to impress us, he’d have demanded his mileage points
In April, a 16-year-old runaway popped out of the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight from California to the amazement of the ground crew at Kahului Airport in Maui, Hawaii.
Officials said the boy rode in a tiny, cramped compartment for almost five hours, at altitudes that reached 38,000 feet, without oxygen and in subzero temperatures.
22. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Again.
A series of near-misses between aircraft included a jetliner pilot in March reporting a near collision with a drone over Florida; two planes nearly colliding in April at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport; a Boeing 767 belonging to Russian airline UTair pulling up from its landing approach as an Aerolineas Argentinas Airbus A340 taxied across its path at Barcelona Airport in July; and a December report by British safety officials that at an altitude of 700 feet, a drone helicopter came within 20 feet of hitting a commercial jetliner as it landed at London Heathrow Airport.
Finally, in December, contact came when the wingtip of a Southwest Airlines 737 clipped an American Airlines 737 awaiting a gate at New York’s LaGuardia International Airport.
“There was this bump. I look out the window and I actually see the tip of the plane (wing) falling off,” said passenger Stormie Alsruhe. “I saw it kind of dangle and it just fell. And I thought, ‘OK great, we’re not taking off now.’”
21. What we could use now is a good toilet tax
Passengers departing from Simon Bolivar International Airport of Maiquetia in Caracas, Venezuela, had to pony up a levy of 127 bolivars ($18) to pay for a new air conditioning unit, according to a statement on the airport’s website.
The “breathing tax,” which went into force on July 1, generated bemusement in Venezuela, with many taking to Twitter to criticize the measure.
“While the stench of the toilets asphyxiates me … they have started to charge 127 bolivars for breathing the ozone,” tweeted Vero (@VeronicaTorresA).
20. All that being true, the voucher for the free cocktail in the lobby bar was appreciated
Marriott agreed to pay a $600,000 fine after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission found the company blocked consumer Wi-Fi networks during an event at a hotel and conference center in Nashville.
At the same time, Marriott was charging exhibitors and others as much as $1,000 per device to access the hotel’s wireless network, according to the FCC.
19. The bare butts were bad, but the didgeridoo-yoga sessions are what really pushed authorities over the top
In March, four American tourists were detained for getting naked and posing for photos at Machu Picchu, in Peru.
The same week, two Canadians and two Australians were detained for stripping down for pictures at the 15th-century Inca citadel.
Peru’s Ministry of Culture denounced the regular spectacle of nude visitors at Machu Picchu as “disrespectful” and “unfortunate events that threaten cultural heritage.”
Cusco’s regional director of culture vowed park guards at Machu Picchu would crackdown on naked tourism.
18. It was either that or get naked at Machu Picchu
Authorities in Rome slapped a 20,000 euro ($24,800) fine on a 42-year-old Russian tourist caught carving his name into the Colosseum, the Roman amphitheater in the center of the city.
17. We sided with the pilot
On a United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver, two 48-year-old passengers fought over a Knee Defender device that blocks seats from reclining.
When a female passenger was unable to recline her seat, a flight attendant told the man seated behind her to remove the Knee Defender.
When he declined, the female passenger threw water in his face.
The pilot diverted the flight to Chicago, where both passengers were removed from the plane but not arrested.
16. Meanwhile, we can’t even get a pair of fingernail clippers past security
After three separate attempts to stow away on airplanes, 62-year-old Marilyn Jean Hartman slipped past a checkpoint at Mineta San Jose International Airport in California without a ticket and boarded a Southwest Airlines flight bound for Los Angeles International Airport.
Hartman was arrested in Los Angeles, later pled no contest to a misdemeanor count of stowing away and was sentenced to two years probation.
15. Upon discovering their seatback pockets were empty, they split into groups to design, edit and publish their own inflight magazine
When temperatures of minus 50 C caused their aircraft’s landing gear to ice up, passengers left their seats to give their frozen Tupolev Tu-134 airplane a push at snowbound Igarka Airport in Siberia.
According to the Komsomolskaya Pravda website, there were cries of “Let’s go!” as two rows of passengers, dressed in heavy coats and thick gloves, each took a wing and began shoving the aircraft into position.
“We all want to get home,” one of the burly volunteers was quoted as saying.
14. Wait a minute, this doesn’t mean we have to let babies off so easily
At Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport, an “emotional support pig” brought onboard a US Airways flight bound for Washington, D.C., by a female passenger defecated in the aisle.
When the owner tied the estimated 70- to 80-pound beast to an armrest and tried to clean up after him, he began to howl.
The woman and pig left the plane before takeoff.
“She was talking to it like a person, saying it was being a jerk,” a horrified passenger later said. “I have no problems with babies, but this pig was letting out a howl.”
13. All that without the assistance of a Knee Defender? Not bad
A two-week period in December saw five separate incidents of Chinese tourists misbehaving on planes.
One couple, after throwing a series of tantrums, threw hot water at a flight attendant.
Emergency exits were opened in two separate incidents for different reasons.
A mini-brawl was touched off by a crying baby and reclining seats.
Rather than take the economy-class seat he’d paid for, a man named Xia plopped himself in first-class, refused to leave and “took his shoes and socks off and aired his feet off on the seat in front of him, emitting a noxious odor that inflamed every nostril in the cabin” and “during ascent and landing brushed off protestations from cabin crew and made full use of the kitchen and toilet,” according to China-based THAT’S media group.
12. This is why you don’t pack at the last minute
As of December 1, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration had seized a record 2,000 firearms from carry-on luggage. Even with a month to go, that was more than the TSA has ever seized in any other full year of its existence.
11. In fairness, you’ve never really tasted a nut until you’ve plucked one off those exquisite KAL first-class nut plates
Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah found herself at the center of a media storm after she ordered a plane at New York’s JFK airport return to the gate and a flight attendant be removed because she was served nuts in a bag instead of on a plate in first class.
On December 9, the 40-year-old exec resigned her posts with the airline, said the company chairman, who is also her father.
On New Year’s Eve she was back in the news when Korean authorities detained her.
A spokesman for the Seoul Western District Prosecutor’s Office said an arrest warrant had been approved because “the necessity was recognized because of the graveness of the case and there was an attempt to systematically cover up the charges since the beginning of the incident.”
Officials gave no other details, other than saying the investigation into the incident is ongoing.
10. “Oh, sorry. We thought you said mile-long club!”
With tens of thousands of people attempting to return home on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the line for security screening at Chicago Midway International Airport was so long that reporter Denise Whitaker of CNN affiliate KOMO measured it: 1.2 miles.
9. On the other hand, it doesn’t keep your mind off the whole tap-water-that-looks-like-cloudy-urine thing
Descending on Sochi, Russia, to cover the Winter Olympics, sportswriters from around the world immediately turned into TripAdvisor critics, tweeting about substandard lodgings, including dispatches on “water that looked like cloudy urine,” soiled bed sheets, missing light bulbs, lack of heat and hot water and menacing packs of stray dogs.
Tapping into the sunny disposition for which his countrymen are renowned around the globe, Canada’s National Post columnist Bruce Arthur wrote “most journalists are laughing when they can, and as Bonnie D. Ford of ESPN.com put it, at least it keeps your mind off the whole potential terrorism thing.”
8. Tumultuous season on Mount Everest
After a 2013 brawl between European climbers and Sherpas on Mount Everest, Nepalese authorities announced plans in 2014 to station security officers at the base of the world’s highest peak to keep order among climbing groups.
Things got much worse in April, when an avalanche on the mountain claimed the lives of 12 Sherpa guides and injured others.
7. Fire breaks out aboard ferry in Adriatic Sea
More than 400 passengers were traveling on the Norman Atlantic between the Greece and Italy when a fire began, apparently in the ferry’s parking bay.
At least 10 people died, according to the Italian coast guard. After suffering for hours from cold and suffocating smoke aboard the stranded vessel, as many as 427 were saved in dramatic fashion in choppy seas.
6. Israel-Gaza conflict stops flights
In July, a number of the world’s leading airlines suspended flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport for at least 24 hours after a rocket fired from Gaza struck about a mile from its runways.
The Israel Airport Authority said companies made the decisions on their own, and it urged them to reconsider, saying the airport was safe.
“There is no reason that American carriers should stop flying to Israel and thus give a prize to terror,” it said.
5. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo explodes in midair
In October, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo exploded over the Mojave Desert in California during a test flight just moments after liftoff, killing one pilot and injuring another.
Virgin Galactic has planned for years to sell trips in which SpaceShipTwo transports passengers about 62 miles above Earth – the beginning of outer space.
October also saw the catastrophic explosion of an unmanned rocket operated by Orbital Sciences that was carrying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft loaded with more than 5,000 pounds of equipment for the International Space Station.
Together, the disasters raised questions about the near-term viability of the private space travel industry.
4. Ebola concerns grip travelers around the world
Ebola fears that dominated headlines in October included the story of a man who, having reportedly joked that he had the deadly disease, was escorted off a plane by four officials in blue plastic hazmat suits after it landed in the Dominican Republic.
Events seemed to culminate in a battle of words between American nurse Kaci Hickox, who returned home from Ebola-ravaged West Africa only to be ordered into quarantine in New Jersey, and state Governor Chris Christie, who Hickox blamed for the quarantine, telling CNN that her “basic human rights had been violated.”
Hickox was eventually transported to her home in Maine by a private carrier, “not via mass transit or commercial aircraft,” according to a statement from Christie’s office.
3-1. Separate disasters befall Malaysia-based airlines
It was an eerie and tragic year for major commercial air carriers based in Malaysia.
On March 8, at 12:41 a.m., Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 departed Kuala Lumpur International Airport in good weather en route to Beijing.
Carrying 239 people – 227 passengers and 12 crew members, representing 13 nationalities – the Boeing 777-200ER was expected to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m.
About 45 minutes after takeoff, air traffic controllers outside Kuala Lumpur said they lost contact with the plane over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. This is when the aircraft’s transponder was either turned off or stopped working.
Radar tracking showed MH370’s last known location over the tiny island of Pulau Perak in the Strait of Malacca, hundreds of miles from the flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, flying in the opposite direction from its scheduled destination and on the opposite side of the Malay Peninsula from its scheduled route.
Despite intense search efforts, the aircraft has yet to be found, making its whereabouts and the events that led to its disappearance one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
Scant months later, on July 17, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed by a missile in a rebel-controlled part of eastern Ukraine.
The Boeing 777 carrying 298 people fell from the sky near the town of Torez in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
On the way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, the plane was flying at about 10,000 meters (nearly 33,000 feet) when it broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of “high-energy objects,” according to Dutch aviation investigators.
The United States and Ukraine accused pro-Russian separatists operating in the region of downing the plane with a missile.
The separatists, who denied responsibility for bringing down the plane, took control of the crash site for weeks, combing through the wreckage and hindering access to investigators.
The third major calamity to befall a Malaysia-based airline occurred on December 28, when AirAsia Flight QZ8501 flying from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore disappeared in inclement weather over the Java Sea, between the islands of Belitung and Borneo.
As the year drew to a close, bodies and debris from the plane had been found near its last known location and search efforts continued for the Airbus A320-200 that carried 155 passengers and 7 crew members.
Experts acknowledged the strange circumstances that saw Flight QZ8501 drop off radar in the same region of the world as Malaysia Flight 370.
“It’s eerie, it’s unusual or just kind of spooky that this would happen in this area, but we don’t know the facts yet,” said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, in the days after the aircraft was lost.
This story compiled from reports filed by CNN producers, writers and contributors, and, in parts, with a respectful nod to Esquire magazine’s much-missed Dubious Achievement Awards.